Opinion: Cutting health care benefits is a bad alternative

Recently there has been some controversy over the decision at Porter Medical Center to no longer provide health care benefits to workers, including nurses, who are employed over 20 hours per week, but under 30 hours. The argument at first glance sounds compelling; we in Addison County benefit from having a medical center in Middlebury, and Porter needs to trim extra expenses in order to keep its doors open.
However, is this particular move the best way to keep the budget in line? Apparently, the estimated savings will be around $200,000 per year. Have attempts been made to trim executive compensations and/or capital projects before first going down this path? Further, will trained medical personnel who work part-time, but whose services are needed, now go looking for employment elsewhere where they can receive benefits? If so, does that serve all of those in the community who utilize medical center services?
Of course, it is completely correct that in the long run our present health care non-system — in which employers pay for employees’ coverage — is the larger problem which looms behind this case. A system in which health care is dependent upon employment and in which each employer must decide how and whom to cover amongst their employees is neither cost-effective nor fair.
Instead, as single payer advocates have long pointed out, we should guarantee health care for all by funding health care publicly, and asking everyone to pay into a public fund in accordance with their ability to pay. Funding health care publicly through one fund, as is done in almost all other industrialized countries, not only guarantees coverage for all, but with one payer, cost control is much more effective (prices for medical services in our current system are amongst the highest in the world). A publicly financed system would eliminate the issues presently facing Porter management regarding employee coverage, and should remain an important goal in Vermont — even if we get there in stages.
However, in the meantime, wouldn’t it make more sense to look for a better temporary solution than one in which employees on the front lines lose their health care benefits? Does it make sense to make cuts amongst those least capable of shouldering them and those whose services to the community are needed?
Ellen Oxfeld, Middlebury

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